900 Sei Mk IV

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - 18-CYLINDER GIANT TEST -

PS road tester Jonathan Bent­man has a grin the size of a Lin­colnshire hori­zon. “Wow,” he says. Thanks, JB. Only 999 more words to go. But then, like a tick­led Ital­ian in­line six, he warms up and there’s no stop­ping him: “I didn’t ex­pect a great deal,” he says of a first go on the 900 Sei. “But it’s a def­i­nite wow. It starts on the but­ton and although on tick­over it sounds like...” ...he pauses, search­ing for the right de­scrip­tion... “...like a bag of nails (and bolts and span­ners), once you rev it ev­ery­thing smoothes out, and the ex­haust note is just bliss.”

The Sei is a me­chan­i­cally noisy mo­tor; in­ter­nals were ac­tu­ally made by Moto Guzzi, and assem­bled at Benelli’s Pe­saro plant with Fri­day af­ter­noon tol­er­ances.the odd puff of smoke from the Sei’s trom­bone ex­haust plumbing con­firms it.

Jonathan parks the Sei up un­der the watch­ful eye of its owner. Gor­don is a re­tired civil ser­vant, and this is his sparkling, 1988-reg­is­tered, 6500-mile Sei 900 Mk IV. But it’s not his first. “I had one be­fore this one,” he says. “It was beau­ti­ful; red and white with zero miles; been stored for years.the chap I bought it from, Max at North Corn­wall Mo­tor­cy­cle Cen­tre, re-com­mis­sioned it, but said look, if it’s an in­vest­ment you don’t want to be putting miles on it.and af­ter a while I didn’t see the point in hav­ing a bike I didn’t want to ride – so when Max got this one in, which is a Mark IV from Amer­ica, he asked if I wanted to swap it. So I did.and now this one gets rid­den reg­u­larly.”

And quite right too. For a start, the Benelli de­serves to be seen as well as heard; it looks glo­ri­ous, with Us-only cream and black paint off­set by gleam­ing chrome en­gine cov­ers and a cus­tom-built six-into-six ex­haust sys­tem. “It’s pretty, but a bit odd­look­ing,” says PS test rider Jimmy Do­herty. Great, thanks, I’ll pass your cri­tique on to leg­endary Ital­ian au­to­mo­tive de­sign house, Car­rozze­ria Ghia, who styled it (Ghia was owned in the 1970s, as was Benelli it­self, and Guzzi, by Ar­gen­tine au­to­mo­tive in­dus­tri­al­ist Ale­jan­dro de To­maso).

But we all agree the Sei’s silhouette is stream­lined, light­weight and com­par­a­tively sim­ple set against the bulk of the CBX1000 and Z1300.that’s partly be­cause the 900 is evolved from a 750 – the first Sei was shown in 1973, and launched in 1975.The mo­tor was a bold at­tempt by de To­maso to up­stage the Ja­panese mul­tis lay­ing waste to a com­pla­cent Euro­pean bike in­dus­try, partly by copy­ing them: the 750 was closely based on the Honda CB500/4 (even down to bore and stroke), with the ob­vi­ous ex­ten­sion of an ex­tra pair of cylin­ders.the sin­gle over­head cam, two-valve, 76bhp in­line six proved ex­pen­sive, com­plex and with frag­ile elec­tron­ics and fin­ish.and de­spite early ad­mi­ra­tion for its am­bi­tion, the 750 wasn’t ob­vi­ously bet­ter than its com­pe­ti­tion. Even so, a few were raced at the TT in the 1970s, in­clud­ing by Joey Dun­lop.

And also, as it hap­pens, by Jonathan Bent­man’s dad Gra­ham, in the 10-lap 1976 Proddy TT. “I liked the 750 Sei,” he says. “It was well-bal­anced, went where you di­rected it, was sta­ble, held a line and felt safe. But the TT wasn’t kind to it. 10 laps at full pelt was al­ways go­ing to be dif­fi­cult.at the end of the eighth lap there was oil ev­ery­where, the cases were smashed where we’d decked it, it could barely pull its own weight, it was mak­ing the worst noises. I nursed it to the fin­ish, and when it stopped it wouldn’t run again; the big ends were shot.”

That isn’t a fate likely to be­fall Gor­don’s bike. By 1979 the 750 was bored and stroked to 906cc – and, although 80bhp still wasn’t enough to trou­ble the CBX and Z13, the chas­sis im­proved with a disc brake in­stead of drum at the rear, and sus­pen­sion re­fine­ment – which of­ten took the form of bolt­ing on what­ever com­po­nents were to hand at the fac­tory; the Sei, like many Ital­ian bikes of the 1970s, had more than an air of ex­pe­di­ent parts-bin spe­cials.

Either way, the MKI 900 Sei steadily evolved into the MKIV, in­cor­po­rat­ing a va­ri­ety of up­dates, most ob­vi­ous of which were cos­met­ics – adding a bikini fair­ing to the round-head­light Sei, then en­larg­ing it and switch­ing to a square light (we’re not sure where Gor­don’s round light and nose-cone come from). But the ba­sic en­gine de­sign stayed the same through­out the Sei’s life – which although it stretched for 10 years, only saw around 1800 bikes built.

Be­fore I go for a spin, I ask Gor­don what to look out for. “You have to treat it with kid gloves,” he says. “You can’t go racing into a round­about and ex­pect it to stop on a six­pence; you have to nur­ture it in.”

The Sei’s rid­ing po­si­tion is odd – the thin, flat seat is al­most level with the slim tank and low ’bars, and ’pegs are so far for­ward my left boot needs wedg­ing un­der the fly­wheel cover, which also ob­scures the side­stand. But it’s not un­com­fort­able; once flight sta­tus is checked on the al­time­ter-style Veglia clocks and the rowdy in­line six is run­ning, first gear goes in like a dropped ham­mer and the Sei bur­bles hap­pily away with a singing, bub­bling chat­ter.

Then it splut­ters and dies be­cause I for­get to turn the fuel tap on.a few hun­dred yards later, I’ve for­got­ten to the turn the other one on too – the Sei has one on each side, across three carbs feed­ing six throt­tle bod­ies,

min­imis­ing width be­tween the knees. But it rocks off at a vig­or­ous pelt and in­stantly puts a smile on my face.

“It’s en­gag­ing, isn’t it?” says JB. “Lighter than I ex­pected, and lithe; the chas­sis de­liv­ers plenty of feed­back.af­ter a few cor­ners I was gen­uinely push­ing it in, with a crisp blip on the down­change – car­bu­ra­tion is ex­cel­lent – then load­ing it up and pow­er­ing away – but not too ag­gres­sively.”

Gor­don has a pair of Avon Road­rid­ers on his Sei, and they hold the tar­mac well enough to ex­pose brak­ing lim­i­ta­tions – Gor­don is right, these Brem­bos aren’t their finest hour.the Sei bounds along, sway­ing on its Hagon shocks and Mar­zoc­chi forks with a pe­riod ‘hinged’ feel if you press hard.

“When you go past peo­ple, they must think, ‘What the hell was that?’” says Gor­don. “Any­one be­hind must be count­ing the ex­haust pipes and won­der­ing what it is. So yes, you do do a bit of pos­ing with it,” he smiles. “It comes with the ter­ri­tory.”

Those six megas look great. It rides low at the back though

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